Posted on June 10, 2017
22. ‘The Last Gasp’ by Trevor Hoyle
The Last Gasp by Trevor Hoyle is an absolute beast of a book. That’s because its set between 2016 and 2052 and it follows dozens of characters. At just over 725 pages it’s quite a book to commit to, but for me it sort of paid off.
The Last Gasp was written in the 80s, but it opens in 2016 when the first signs of oxygen depletion in our atmosphere are being detected by scientists. Global warming and climate change are gradually killing the ocean’s microscopic phytoplankton, which provide roughly 60% of the oxygen in our atmosphere, and if they die then so do we. Hoyle bases his story on real climate change predictions and extrapolates from there into a disastrous future based on humanity’s ability to deny, deny, deny.
The main hero of the story is Gavin Chase, a microbiologist who leads the way in raising awareness about the imminent disaster, but the novel by no means stays in his head all the way through. We get dozens of perspectives, from right-on climate scientists to shady military types and confused government officials. For that reason the 700+ pages don’t feel too daunting (at least it didn’t to me), because the chapters are so short and we chop and change between different perspectives quite frequently.
The book is divided into several sections, skipping ahead about 5 years each time, so we get to see the disaster as it unfolds. This does have an interesting outcome: in each section there is a central conflict (usually between the scientists bent on saving the world, and the authorities determined to horde the dwindling resources for themselves) and each time this conflict seems so disastrous that you become convinced this will finally spell the end of everything. But when you get to the next section a few years later, circumstances have changed and humanity is still struggling on – weaker and more hopeless than before. It would be easy to go with balls-to-the-wall destruction that wipes out everything (indeed, that’s the kind of catastrophising we tend to imagine when we think about the end of the world), but this slow, desperate decline is much more frightening.
I also really enjoyed how climate change deniers are dealt with (in the earlier sections, when the evidence lies in intricate science and is not immediately obvious to the average person). We usually see these people through the eyes of scientist characters, and there are some fist-pumping scenes where a clueless idiot will spout something about climate change being a fearmongering conspiracy, and then the scientists will absolutely obliterate them with logic and vitriol. That’s pretty satisfying to read.
However, I did have one major problem with the book: its portrayal of women. It’s amazing how a book so scientifically prescient can remain so backwards in how it treats its female characters. They are always sexualised; every woman we come across is described in terms of how attractive she is to the man looking at her (many of the male characters are too, but not nearly with the same regularity as the women). There’s even a moment where a man examines the body of a woman whose head has been blown off and his first thought is about how attractive she must have been when she was alive. Seriously. Do we even have to sexualise corpses?
I invented a game as I was reading, so feel free to try it yourself if you pick this one up: it’s called ‘Spot the Drink’. When a female character is in a scene, keep an eye out for the drink. She will either be preparing one (usually for a man), serving one (usually to a man), or offering to make one (you get the idea). Even female scientists in the midst of important scientific discussions seem more obsessed with keeping the male characters hydrated than actually contributing to the conversation.
(In addition to this, there’s something of a correlation between ‘evil’ characters and either physical deformities or homosexuality. Just sayin’.)
This is a fine book. Although many of the characters are based on Hollywood-style clichés, the women leave a lot to be desired (not physically though, total hotties, phwoarr, am I right?!), and it too easily slips into a simplified good–evil dichotomy, it’s still a pacy story with an important ‘message’ and lots of irresistible post-apocalyptic chaos.
“…the only hope of survival for future generations is if people like us are prepared to take upon ourselves the responsibility that the governments of the world have abdicated.”
Have you read this book or are you planning to? I’d love to know your thoughts!
Want to read this? You can buy the book here.